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Cutting-Edge Breast Cancer Research Among National Grants Awarded To Canterbury And West Coast DHBs

Canterbury and West Coast DHBs have attracted a broad array of research funding to benefit local and New Zealand health care in new research funding from the Health Research Council.

Five different grants received approval ranging from developing tools for better predicting Emergency Department bed need through to “What growing up well looks like for Coast kids”. Two more grants are under negotiation.

The largest grant for the DHBs went to Canterbury Health Laboratories Anatomical Pathologist Dr Gavin Harris for his work on developing computational pathology capability and expertise for breast cancer.

Gavin explains that his day job in anatomical pathology involves looking at cancerous tissue under microscopes and predicting how someone’s cancer is likely to behave or respond to different therapies. His specialty is breast cancer. Increasingly in pathology, glass slides are now being digitised so they can be viewed on a high definition monitor rather than using a microscope.

Gavin’s research is focused on developing the cutting-edge practice of computational pathology. This involves generating computer algorithms that can be used to analyse digitised glass slides for much quicker, accurate, objective analysis.

“At the moment it takes one to two hours to manually review a single breast tissue sample and produce a report for clinicians to view.

“With computational pathology we would expect that that would reduce the time significantly. This would have big implications for how we meet increasing cancer rates with scarce specialist resources,” says Gavin.

This latest grant is the third Gavin has received for this work since 2019 and will provide the funding to partly step back from his day job and devote more time to his research.

While the field is attracting big interest and funding overseas, it’s in its early stages in New Zealand. Gavin believes our local capability, including the Canterbury Health Laboratories, Te Papa Hauora/Health Precinct partners and Cancer Society Tissue Bank, puts us in a unique position to lead developing computational pathology technology in New Zealand.

“My goal is to attract funding to develop computational pathology expertise locally, which has maximum benefit for New Zealand cancer patients. The aim would be to use New Zealand data and expert analysis, so ultimately New Zealand cancer patients and their clinicians would have more information about their cancers and how they might respond to various treatments. This would support a more personalised approach to cancer management.”

Canterbury DHB Chief Medical Officer Sue Nightingale says, “We’re delighted to have attracted such a broad range of grants from across different specialties and determined to keep growing our research activities here to help improve the health and wellbeing of our communities.”

The full list of Health Research Council Health Sector Research Collaboration Grants for Canterbury and West Coast DHBs are: a Research Activation Grant for Dr Cameron Lacey, Canterbury DHB Clinical Director Research, for a “Review of Māori consultation processes for research” with a second research activation grant in negotiation. There are four Research Career Development Awards granted to: Jane George, West Coast DHB Director of Allied Health, Scientific and Technical, for “Rural early years ‘What growing up well looks like for Coast kids’”; Dr Laura Hamill, Canterbury DHB Emergency Department Fellow, for “Improving Care and Equity in acute medical decision making”; Dr Gavin Harris, Canterbury Health Laboratories Anatomical Pathologist, for “Developing computational pathology capability and expertise for breast cancer”; and Emily Timothy, Canterbury DHB Community Stroke Rehabilitation Service Physiotherapist, for “Conceptualising inpatient rehabilitation early intervention vocational services”. A further research career development award is in negotiation

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